On the 50th anniversary of Apollo 13 and OMEGA’s “Silver Snoopy Award”, we spoke with two of the astronauts who remember those moments best. Captain James Lovell, Commander of Apollo 13; and Lieutenant General Thomas Stafford, who flew on four NASA missions and presented OMEGA with its prestigious prize in 1970.
This year marks 50 years since the safe return of Apollo 13. What emotions or memories has the milestone brought back?
James Lovell: Over the years, I’ve kept on thinking about Apollo 13 as a great example of teamwork, particularly between Mission Control and the flight crew. I can still remember the sudden explosion on board, and that feeling of successfully landing in the ocean.
Thomas Stafford: I remember presenting the Snoopy award to Dr. Widmer from OMEGA at a little ceremony in my office. I thanked him and OMEGA watches for the wonderful service they’d given us throughout the space programme, but particularly on Apollo 13, because the Speedmaster was so critical in helping us get safely back to the Earth.
How important was the OMEGA Speedmaster to the Apollo 13 mission?
James Lovell: When the spacecraft clocks stopped, that’s when we required the Speedmaster.
Thomas Stafford: The Speedmaster meant mission failure or success, because we didn’t have electrical power to turn on timers or computers. So all we had was just the watch. For so many seconds, they would thrust on that descent engine. It was OMEGA that got them back, and for that it was decided that they should receive a Silver Snoopy Award. Without our normal navigation equipment, we had to view the Earth and use it as a guideline. Then we had to burn the engine for 14 seconds and turn it off, so we used the watch that Jack Swigert wore.
Thomas Stafford: The Speedmaster meant mission failure or success, because we didn’t have electrical power to turn on timers or computers. So all we had was just the watch. For so many seconds, they would thrust on that descent engine. It was OMEGA that got them back, and for that it was decided that they should receive a Silver Snoopy Award.
What are your memories of Snoopy at NASA? Was he a favourite mascot amongst the astronauts?
James Lovell: Snoopy was real a cartoon favorite who kept showing up in the comic strips wearing a spacesuit. I think the astronauts adopted him because he just did everything right.
Thomas Stafford: Charles Schulz had a great understanding of human nature, and so everybody just loved Snoopy. He was always doing something. And Charlie Brown was always doing something. Snoopy just looked so loveable.
What did the “Silver Snoopy Award” come to represent, and how special is it?
James Lovell: The astronauts adopted the award as a way to really recognise the events and actions that worked well.
Thomas Stafford: If somebody really did something outstanding, really helped in the safety of the overall mission, they would possibly be awarded a little Silver Snoopy pin. They weren’t handed out very often. It was a rare thing. So if you had a Silver Snoopy, it meant that you had done something really outstanding to help the programme. Usually an astronaut awards it, because it’s their life that’s on the line.
Looking back, how important has OMEGA’s contribution to the space programme been?
James Lovell: Quite simply, OMEGA was an essential part to a successful mission.
Thomas Stafford: OMEGA was just an integral part of our total effort in space. When you’re in space, your baseline is time. Everything is based on time. We loved the professional Speedmaster. It worked good. Never failed. It was always just there ready to go.